Deaf ears, instinct, and a little thing called guts


If “voice” is a magical co-mingling of my life’s experiences, my way of writing, the characters I’ve invented and the story I’m telling, then is it possible that we’re deaf to our own writerly voices? That to our own ears, it’s just a collection of words – but to others it is tone, it is rhythm, and it is the ever-elusive voice?

That might explain why voice is so hard to learn.

It’s true there are voices and then there are voices – some really stand out, and others are more subtle. And it’s also true that when I look at my own work I can distinguish between a passage that is alive and a passage that is flat…in need of a voice-related injection. But I’m not always sure I can point to a word or phrase and confidently say: there’s my voice. It’s less explicit…more instinctive than that.

I find grammar, punctuation and their ilk to be similar – there are so many tiny linguistic building blocks that go into a given passage that I just can’t keep them all in my head. I think some of it – nay, a lot of it – must come by instinct. Instinct borne from reading, and seeing it done well. And also instinct borne from writing, from trying to do it myself.

That doesn’t mean those building blocks aren’t important. It just means that you’ve got to be able to be honest about your stuff, trust your gut and recognize when things aren’t working, and look for help on those items.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that in writing, instinct is important. And going with your gut takes confidence.

You can’t have voice without guts.

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